“Now I lay me down to sleep” please. Maybe it will help if you beg. Maybe you need to buy more of those products that are advertised to promote sleep. Just to get started we have: mattresses, pillows, pills, nasal strips, snoring devices, earplugs, blindfolds and special relaxation music or sounds. More than likely, you have tried many, but you still find yourself wide awake, staring at the ceiling, right after you pulled yourself out of your recliner because you could not keep your eyes open to read your current book or finish watching a television program, even after rewinding it four times on the DVR. Does any of this ring the proverbial bell?
We can make all the jokes we want about sleep, or lack of, but making light of it does not make the activity itself less important. It is pretty obvious to all of us that we feel much better and we produce a lot more when our bodies are well rested. Even though all those hours we spend sleeping may appear to be a waste of time to some, what happens when we sleep affects what we get done when awake, and may even determine how long we live. Understanding what your body does when you sleep, why those processes contribute to your health and how many hours you need just might help you fully grasp how important those down-time hours really are.
Fortunately, the brain does get some rest when we sleep; however, it still keeps busy managing the body’s important functions as it takes us through the five different sleep cycles to the last one known as rapid eye movement (REM). Our brain waves get longer and slower through this process, and the sleep gets deeper. When we are dreaming in this deepest stage, it is interesting to note that the pons, a part of the brain stem, is relaying impulses between the brain and the spinal cord. Because it tells the motor neurons in the spinal cord to turn off, we usually experience a temporary paralysis that keeps us from acting out our dreams. We should all be very grateful for such attention to detail.
While the brain is doing its job, our body is producing extra protein molecules and human growth hormone (HGH), while at the same time decreasing the production of stimulating hormones such as adrenaline and natural corticosteroids. These factors, along with lower body temperature and metabolic rate, contribute to a refreshing and deeper sleep.
All of these activities taking place in our bodies, while we are ideally dreaming of pleasant places, set us up for optimum health and peak performance during our waking hours. Studies show that the brain during REM sleep actually heals emotions and memories. As a result, successful sleep can even remedy mood disorders, the most obvious is probably that grumpy feeling we have all experienced, which with some of us just makes us seem always unhappy. HGH, a protein hormone, repairs muscles and bones along with virtually repairing all tissue in the body. Even our skin benefits – hence, beauty sleep. Our immune systems are enhanced by the extra protein molecules as well, which help us recover from illness faster and build up resistance to potential infection or more serious health problems.
Because we are more relaxed when we sleep, our cardiovascular system gets a needed break. Bloodpressure is lower, and since the stress hormones also decrease, the whole system feels much less threatened. Those same stress hormones influence our eating habits. As a result, if we get enough sleep, there is a good chance we will eat less and maintain a healthy body weight. Bad eating habits not only set you up for obesity issues, they can exacerbate another condition, diabetes, which is already triggered by lack of sleep. When we get good sleep our system produces the right amount of glucose, and that is so important in preventing this way too prevalent condition.
So pretend for a minute or two that you have no trouble getting to sleep, or staying that way, for a wonderful night’s sleep. Just how much do you need? It is probably safe to assume that you are an adult just by your presence here. Any one over eighteen should be getting between seven and nine hours of shut eye every night. While that may seem surprising, keep in mind that with more sleep your productivity during your waking hours will very likely increase. When you cannot get that many hours, your body will respond favorably to making up time when it is possible, even by naps here and there. When you think about it, doesn’t it seem like a good idea to enhance the time your body spends relaxing, healing and producing all the beneficial hormones that make you feel younger and healthier? Hopefully, that is appealing enough to convince you to at least carve out enough time to try it.
If you are suffering from any sort of sleep disorder, what your body does when it is sleeping soundly might seem like a moot point. There is probably nothing you would be more willing to do right now than sleep, very deeply, nine hours every night for the rest of your life so you can reap all the benefits mentioned here, and prevent all the unwanted conditions caused by lack of slumber. Hopefully, if you fully comprehend the value of sleep it will motivate you to do whatever you can to remedy any issue you suffer regarding sleep, whether it has a label or not.